There was a growing meme in some corners of the Internet and tech policy community that says the US is falling behind Europe when it comes to broadband deployment and implementation.
One such indictment of America’s flailing broadband comes from Obama advisor and law professor Susan Crawford, who recently wrote a book claiming that only a limited amount of people have access to high-speed Internet, among other perceived problems. She, and others who argue that America is falling behind in broadband, use this assertion to argue for more government control and regulation of the Internet.
Any cursory glance at the data will tell you that this argument is a dog that won’t hunt.
According to the National Broadband Plan, nearly 95% of people have access to broadband services. If you include wireless broadband, 98% of all Americans have access to high-speed Internet. And for Americans that don’t have access to either of these services, there are other options, such as satellite service.
Some point to price disparity and the cost of purchasing broadband Internet service as prohibitively high as compared to Asian and European countries. But this assertion ignores two things. First, as Aalborg University’s Roslyn Layton points out in AEI’s The American, comparing costs across the board ignores the government subsidies that are often poured into Internet deployment in those countries, and the regulations that are imposed on some landlords to upgrade their apartment buildings.
Comparing European costs to American’s costs also ignores the vast geography of the United States, compared to the compact urban populations of many European countries. And US broadband prices (adjusted for inflation) have steadily dropped—Internet service costs have gone down 50% in the last 10 years alone, according the data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Those who look towards Europe as a model for broadband are looking in the wrong place. A tough regulatory market and an overcrowded marketplace are hampering broadband providers from investing in newer and faster networks, according to a Reuters account. The European telecom companies are having a very rough go of it, with the harsh regulatory climate making them much less valuable. The diminished value of these companies means less interest from investors, and less interest from investors mean less money to invest in new infrastructure.
The US, by contrast, has seen investment in broadband grow to $250 billion since 2008.
Many, including Crawford, lament a lack of competition among broadband providers in the US. This, also, simply isn’t true. As Steve Pociask and I pointed out in The Daily Caller, an FCC report shows that 96.6% of Americans have more than one option and 78.8% have three or more options when it comes to selecting a broadband provider. And when you include the wireless providers that cover those markets, the options for high-speed Internet only increase. At least six major wireless providers are currently introducing 4G wireless networks across the country.
The US does better in broadband implementation without the regulations we see in other countries—and that’s one of many reasons why net neutrality and other proposals to regulate the Internet are harmful. According to the FCC, 93% of US consumers are satisfied with the current broadband service. That’s an incredibly large number, by any standard.
The implications are clear. The government’s regulatory bodies should pursue free-market approaches to broadband, Internet and technology policy to continue the great strides we’ve made in deployment. In turn, consumers will continue to benefit and gain satisfaction from a hands-off approach to Internet regulation.
Zack Christenson writes on digital tech issues for the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, a nonprofit educational and research institute. For more information, visit www.theamericanconsumer.org.